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$1.5 million settlement in fatal suburban crash is justice, family says

Feb 27, 2002 | Daily Herald Marion Evans' two grown daughters say no amount of money will make up for losing their mother.

But they say they feel justice has been done since Ford Motor Co. last week agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a federal lawsuit that claimed an airbag deployed too late in the 1998 crash that killed the Des Plaines woman.

They also hope news of the settlement will send a message to auto makers and motorists that airbags can be dangerous, even deadly.

"I'm more satisfied with the justice because more people are going to know," daughter Anita Hensley-Martinez of South suburban Westmont said Tuesday.

Martinez said that since the crash killed her mother, she has been "terrified" of airbags in her own car.

"In our truck, I always turn off my airbag," Martinez said.

Martinez and her sister, Laurie Hensley-Hernandez of South suburban Bolingbrook spoke of their loss at a news conference Tuesday in the Chicago office of their attorney, Edmund Scanlan.

Evans, then a 48-year-old manager of a KFC restaurant in Mount Prospect, was leaving work on a rainy November 1998 night when she drove her 1998 Explorer into a light pole.

Computer data recorded in her truck's black box showed she was driving only 19 mph and the airbag took nearly twice the time considered safe to deploy.

Scanlan said the Cook County Medical Examiner's report indicated that Evans' head was close to the steering wheel when the airbag inflated - causing her head to snap back, breaking her neck.

Lawyers for Ford said Evans' death was caused by Klippel-Feil syndrome, a disorder Evans had that caused her vertebrae to fuse together. That meant she was at extreme risk of dying in any car accident, Ford spokeswoman Kathleen Vokes said.

"The co-worker she was driving home in the passenger seat wasn't even wearing a seat belt, and he came away with no injury," Vokes said. "Both airbags deployed at the same time, but Evans was just extremely vulnerable. It wouldn't matter what car she was driving."

Scanlan acknowledged that Evans had the medical condition but said his client would likely have survived such a crash if the airbag had deployed correctly.

Ford lawyer Mark Boyle said the company agreed to the settlement, reached two weeks before the trial was set to begin, because of the uncertainty of a jury trial and computer evidence.

Martinez and Hernandez said they feel robbed of time with their mother, who raised them single-handedly in Downers Grove until 1994 when she married and moved to Des Plaines.

"The money doesn't mean anything. The money can't bring my mother back," Martinez said.

"My mom could run circles around people. She was an awesome person," she said.

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